The Consulate-General of Nigeria in New York on Saturday held a remembrance ceremony to honour the memory of Nigerians who died from COVID-19 within its jurisdiction.
PREMIUM TIMES monitored a major part of the event via zoom.
The Consul-General of Nigeria in New York, Lot Egopija, had earlier, told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone that the programme was aimed at honouring the memories of those Nigerians who died in New York during the pandemic that rocked virtually all parts of the globe.
He said one of the foundations of the African culture was the honor people accord the memories of their loved ones “and this would be replicated in the case of these Nigerians, who left behind traumatised families.”
“We want to share in their pains and let them know we stand by them at this trying moment for all humanity,” Mr Egopija told PREMIUM TIMES, explaining the rationale a week before the event.
The United States of America is currently one of the nations hardest hit by the scourge. It has so far recorded 34,401,712 cases with 617,083 deaths according to a data tracker.
About 28,694,843 persons in the U.S. have recovered from the ailment.
New York, where thousands of Nigerians reside, recorded 33,374 deaths out of its 954,000 COVID-19 cases.
Migration Policy Institute says the largest number of Nigerian immigrants in the United States reside in Texas, Maryland, and New York.
By metropolitan area, New York City has the largest Nigerian immigrant population, followed by Houston and Washington DC, it adds.
The Memorial drew Nigerians from all walks of life including UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the UN, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, other Nigerian envoys, community leaders, and families, friends and associates of the victims.
Some Nigerians, who converged on Nigeria House venue of the event and those who joined by virtual all thanked the Consulate for the initiative.
They also encouraged Nigerians who had not been vaccinated to do so and to raise their voices to encourage others to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the virus.
UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, in her keynote address, urged people to raise their voices against COVID-19, noting that vaccine is the surest way to be protected.
Mrs Mohammed said the remembrance ceremony was in line with the tradition and culture of honouring the memories of the departed.
She said it was surprising that high fatality of COVID-19 had been recorded in some part of the world, more than in Nigeria and some parts of Africa.
“For us, it not about the virus itself, although, it took so many lives; it is also about the social-economic impact; even those who have lost loved ones are also suffering from the social-economic impact.
“We are grateful to God that those fatality – even I will say, one life lost is one too many but – it is not as bad as we expected.
“You remember there was projection from voices in the world that fatality in Africa will be more but we thank God, it is not so.
“We must commend our government and local leaders who really stepped up to protect as many as they could from the virus; although we lost so many,’’ she said.
Similarly, Muhammad-Bande, Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, thanked the consulate for honouring the memory of the deceased, saying it is a long tradition in Nigeria to remember the departed loved ones.
Mr Muhammad-Bande said it was also a sense of community that necessitated the gathering to condole with the families and friends of the COVID-19 victims.
“We can continue to reflect about life and death but we should learn the lesson of life that death is inevitable and so we must learn to live healthy.’’
The Nigerian envoy commended the Nigerian government for evacuating some Nigerians who were stranded during the lockdown back home.
In his remarks, Mr Egopija said the COVID-19 pandemic led to so many deaths and suspension of socio-economic activities globally.
Mr Egopija said the purpose of the remembrance ceremony was to identify with Nigerians, who lost their loved ones to the pandemic, in line with the tradition of honouring the dead.
He encouraged Nigerians yet to be vaccinated to do so, saying, “the New York City authority had provided a mobile vaccination van outside the Nigeria House to vaccinate interested Nigerians.”
“They have also offered to provide safe services to various Nigeria communities on mutually agreed days,’’ he said.
Mr Egopija commended the efforts of the New York State, which was the epicentre of the pandemic, saying the state celebrated the attainment of vaccinating 70 per cent of its population a few days ago.
The Nigerian envoy said businesses had been permitted to resume operations in line with the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in the state.
“It is evidence that the host country is gradually returning to the pre-COVID-19 days.’’
Also speaking, Bobby Olisa, President, Nigerians in the Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), New York, emphasised the importance of being vaccinated, wearing face masks and observing physical distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Mr Olisa recalled his experience of testing positive for COVID-19 and spoke against stigmatising COVID-19 patients.
Iwuozo Obilo, a representative of medical doctors, said there is the need for Nigerians to be vaccinated, saying “the pandemic is not over, we still have some variants.”
“We cannot be complacent; the vaccines are safe, please take it and encourage your loves ones to do so,’’ he said.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Health Foundation paid tributes to the frontline workers who lost their lives to the pandemic.
Responding on behalf of representatives of the families of the deceased, Joyce Adewumi, younger sister of one of the victims, Jonathan Adewumi, thanked the Consul-General for remembering ceremony to honour their departed loved ones.
Ms Adewumi said the event was comforting and consoling to the families, friends and associates of the COVID-19 victims.
“It has been a very difficult period for us but this event today has helped us ease the pain; it is greatly comforting to us,’’ she said.
The highpoint of the event was the unveiling of the Memorial Plaque by the Deputy Secretary-General and the Consul-General. Muslim and Christian prayers were offered for the souls of the departed.
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